Being the house drummer for Los Angeles’ longest-running (and only) jazz jam at the late Billy Higgins’ non-profit The World Stage means playing music without or without charts, including original music, at the drop of a hat. We have many name and not-so-name high-level players sitting in on a regular basis. This isn’t the type of gig that will make a person rich, but the immense riches to be had just by keeping the rust off my jazz chops is priceless! Or at least I thought so until a short time ago.
One of the best saxists that regularly sits in, “Johnny” (don’t have permission to use his name), had mentioned he had a lot of gear he wanted to donate to The World Stage some time ago. He said this included some old Radio Kings. Such a donation would be a very nice gesture and I didn’t think about it too much more about it.
A few weeks ago, as I was setting up one of Billy’s kits for the jam, I looked up to see “Johnny” brining in some black soft cases. When I looked up a few minutes later “Johnny” was in front of me, smiling. He said, “These are the Radio Kings I was telling you about!” Of course I immediately came down from the stage and zipped open the cases. The drums were in very good condition and ready-to-play, so I intended to do so immediately.
The next few minutes as I was setting the Radio Kings up went like this:
Johnny: “You know, I was gonna donate these (the drums) to The Stage, but y’know what Adrian? I’d rather give them to you because I know you’ll play them!”
Me: (thinking to myself “He’s joking, RIGHT???) “Aw Main!!! Thanks! I just want to play them and hear how they sound”.
Johnny: “Yeah, Man!” They’re YOUR drums now! You just have to do some gigs with me and use those drums, OK? I want to hear them being played by a player, OK?”
Me: “Of Course! (giving him my card) Just call me and let me know when and where!”
So I played on them for about an hour and then let others sit in so I could hear them out front. OMG!! OMG!!!
I finished setting the Radios Kings up and got to work, (more on how they sound follows) After sitting in, Johnny prepared to leave to go back home (in Ventura County, a 1-hour drive at night from L.A.!!) he stopped me and said, “Hey Adrian! Don’t forget to take those drums home. I don’t want to see any missing pieces laying all around The Stage next week, OK?”
That thought NEVER crossed my already-totally-blown mind! He even gave me almost-new Ahead soft cases along with the drums!!!
The drums are 8X12, 14X14 toms and a 16X16 (!) converted bass drum. I did a bit of detective work to determine the approximate age of the kit. The drums are obviously mix and match, with the White Marine Pearl wrap being quite yellowed on the 14X14 and 16X16. Much more yellowed than the 8X12.
They appear to be Radio Kings from between mid-1940s to the mid/late 1950s due to the tension casing and hoop designs. Strangely enough there are no vent holes on any of these drums. Neither are there any Slingerland badges or serial numbers. The 8X12 has “Slingerland Radio King” written on its batter hoop. The washers holding the pearl wrap together have “ Slingerland Chicago, Il USA” written on them.
The 8X12 and 14X14 tension casings appear to be “Beavertail/Super” lugs, introduced around WW2. The 8X12 has double-flange aka “stick-eater” hoops, while the 14X14 has single-flange hoops. The 14X14 hoops and lugs are un-plated nickel, and I believe this is the oldest drum of the kit.
The 16X16 was obviously a floor tom at first, but it has wood hoops and the spurs appear to be from the same 1940s-50s time period, although I couldn’t find any pictures of these online. The tension casings are Sound King lugs from the 1950s. The wood hoop claws seem to be from the pre-WW2 era.
The spurs seem to be factory-made or custom made because the curve raises the “kick” to the perfect angle and height. The spur holders are most likely tom leg holders. The third set of holes for tom legs are filled in with the same washers as the toms, and the holes for the old-style screw-in tone controls have been filled in with screws, as have the other two drums.
The internal shell reinforcing rings are much thicker than I’ve ever seen. The 8X12 has 2-inch rings, the 14X14 has 2 1/2 –inch rings, and the 16X16 has 3-inch rings.
Another reason to believe these are mixed-and-matched Slingerland Radio Kings is the T-Rod design.
The Kit’s “Pedigree”:
Johnny said these drums are from Frank Ippolito’s old drum shop in Manhattan, and that they were once owned by Papa Jo Jones (!!!!!!!). I read a Billy Cobham interview that said drum guru Al Duffy fixed up a mixed set of Radio Kings for Billy to use when he first did Mahavishnu. I also know that Papa Jo taught at Ippolitio’s for many years. Without provenance it cannot be proven that these drums were owned, or played by, Papa Jo.
But as they say, “preponderance of the evidence” would strongly suggest that these drums are actually from Ippolito’s. Meaning these drums were most likely “laying around” and were used by some great NYC players from the past. Even with the mix and match business, these drums are most definitely from back in the day.
The Kit’s Sound:
To repeat myself from before, OMG!!!!! OMG!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!!
The drums were jazz-tuned, almost to the point of being over-tightened and choking. BUT they sounded so full, rich, woody and “dark”. They are very musical and blend well in several settings. They are quite punchy but not harsh at all. We have a conguero in the house band and the 8X12 sounded like a high timbale when we did Afro-Cuban songs. Rim shots on the toms “pop” like sweet gunshots. The kick has a heartbeat-like thump.
The kit sounds just as The Reader would imagine. I’m currently debating whether to put calfskin or Evans ’56 heads on them all around. They sound very warm with the Vintage Emperor heads they came with, but I’m sure they will even sound richer once I put some calf-like heads on them.
How I’m Feeling Now?
A few weeks ago I’d balk at schlepping my rigs to hits, as the schlep makes my butt hurt quite very severely. Remembering the past I’m still “Where are the %$#@* roadies when you need them???” I sometimes refuse a hit because they don’t already have a kit at the venue.
But now? I’m a newbie again. I want to use these drums on EVERY gig and rehearsal I have. I can’t wait until I can bring the kit into a studio to track. Not that I don’t already have lots of drums that I love. Not at all. All my “tubs” SOUND and are a pleasure to play on. They track well and allow me to kick bands all up in the a** with very little effort.
But these Radio Kings? I still can’t believe how I got these, although my friends and family say I deserve this gift and blessing. I never would have even imagined anything like this would happen to me. It’s like I’m a 15-year old again with my first professional kit that I want to use for only everything I’m doing.
I guess trying to live “right and just” does pay off. But I still can’t believe my good fortune!! Accept it, yes! Believe how it happened? That will continue to take some time for me to process. But WOO HOO!!!!!!!
Adrian Peek is an internationally-renown musician/composer/producer. He tracked his first hit record (“Oh My Sweet Darling”, The Equations, All Platinum) while still in high school (“The NYC radio stations\heard in our in our high school cafeteria played the song in heavy rotation”). He went on to record and tour with many name artists including Roy Ayers, Memphis Slim, Mighty Joe Young, Pete Cosey, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, David “Fathead” Newman, The Soul Messengers, Willie Dixon, KSAB, and many others. Adrian was a chief staff musician/composer for CBC and Global TV, He is currently working gigs and sessions in Los Angeles, and tracking drum stems in his project studio. He is also composing original music for TV and film uses.
Adrian Peek is an Exclusive Soultone Cymbal Artist.